This morning when Father Valdez was beginning to enter the sacristy, facing him was a figure, face behind a balaclava, holding a gun. “What do you want?” he asked.
“Anything of value, Padre. Everyone knows you guys have gold this and silver that. Plus
you’re good at getting people to part with their cash.”
Even kind Father Valdez could see where this was headed. He backed away slightly.
“Where you going, Father?”
He suddenly remembered Mrs. Duffy and the few morning mass attendees who arrived early and kneeled like scattered targets in the pews muttering softly into their aged hands. He moved closer to the masked figure, entering further into the sacristy to be out of hearing.
“So, is this where you keep the valuable stuff?” He threw a duffel bag on the floor and motioned with his gun to a large closet. “Get packing.”
“That’s just my vestments and garments.”
“Well, where’s all that cash that falls into your baskets every mass?”
A slight tingle of recognition shuddered through his body, a sense of familiarity with the gunmen. His slight body, his lithe movements, the unsureness in his voice.
“All the money is locked in a safe in the rectory. I need to get out there and say mass or someone will come looking for me.”
The gunman showed signs of frustration and raised his voice, “Well, you better start coming up with things made of gold or some money from somewhere. I can take hostages if I have to.”
Father was excellent at reading people, and this intruder’s bluster didn’t ring genuine to him, but the stakes were high if he were mistaken. “I don’t think that will be necessary. Why would you throw everything away getting caught doing this?”
“Don’t try fucking analysis on me.” He raised his voice more. “You’re all pedos. You don’t even fucking remember me, do you?”
“I’m sorry but you have on a mask.”
“You guys aren’t usually picky about how a boy looks if you can get them naked at the rectory.”
“I’ve never done such a thing, I promise you.”
“Well, I figure somebody here owes me something for what Father Baldini did to me. The travelling priest you were tight with, the real grabby perv. Come to think of it, you showed up here pretty suddenly a couple of Sundays like you suspected something was going on. Don’t play dumb. Interesting thing about that was you were always too late.”
Father was conspicuously silent on the subject, only reinforcing the young man’s opinion.
He was thinking what a joke it was that his parents named him Juan Valdez, making him the constant butt of jokes. One afternoon when he was away from seminary visiting his family, his father asked to speak with him. His father related a story from when he’d been in Vietnam. Another infantryman had asked him to go into town with him. The reason was vague but he didn’t see any reason not to. Tomas paused, looked down, and continued.
“When we were walking along on the outskirts of town, Troy brushed his hand across my crotch. I pulled away and just told him he was barking up the wrong tree. For the rest of my tour, other guys gave me suspicious looks and avoided me, especially in the showers and locker room. You have to be really careful who you hang out with. Guilt by association still feels like guilt. At least it did for me.”
Juan was speechless, but eventually said, “Why are you telling me this?”
“So many unmarried men in close quarters is never a good thing.”
“Well, I know what I’m all about so I don’t think you need to worry.”
A very awkward silence ensued until Tomas patted his son’s knee and said, “Come on and let’s see what your mother’s cooked up for us.”
Could you take off that mask so I know who you are. I never harmed you. Father was surprised when the youngster immediately pulled it off. Standing before him was Mrs. Duffy’s nephew who Father had taken under his wing after his father passed away after eighth grade.
“Patrick, what’s going on? Are you high? Where’d you get that gun? Give it to me and I’ll not say a word. But if you don’t, I’ll call the police.”
“I’m not giving up this gun. I may be high but I’m not stupid.
Father noticed Patrick’s blue eyes which stood out like ancient marbles against his black hoodie and black everything else. He had been convinced Patrick could be set on the right path, but this other anger stalled him. Father knew he was trying so hard to be a thug to make him “somebody.”
“If you put the gun down now, I’ll take no further action and we can talk later. I’m on your side though you don’t believe it.”
Suddenly, Mrs. Duffy was standing in the doorway, her rosary attached to her like an appendage. “Patrick, what have you been up to? Is everything okay, Father.” She took the gun from him, slipped it into her purse, grabbed him by the ear and led him to HER pew and said, “sit,” and then to Father Valdez, “Let’s say mass.”